Advocates who led the successful charge to legalize marijuana for recreational use at the ballot are pressing lawmakers to avoid further unraveling the law passed by 1.8 million voters. The Massachusetts Legislature has already delayed when pot shops are expected to open by six months.
At a Monday news conference, the leaders of the Yes on 4 campaign said Beacon Hill’s new marijuana committee ought to defer action on any bill that would alter the statute put on the books by the people of Massachusetts — at least until regulators have had their say.
Legislative leaders have said voters were casting their ballots on legalization generally, not on the specifics in the 24-page law. They’ve raised the prospect of lowering the number of plants adults can grow at home (currently 12 per household), boosting the legal age (currently 21), and giving municipal authorities the ability to forbid all pot facilities in town (currently that requires a local referendum).
Jim Borghesani hinted that lawmakers are giving into retrograde impulses out of line with both Massachusetts voters and the United States.
“Of the eight states with legal marijuana, Massachusetts is the only one that has delayed the timetable for legal sales, and the only state whose Legislature is contemplating major changes to what voters approved,” said Borghesani, who ran communications for the ballot measure and who represents the national pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.
He also offered something of a threat: His group may spend money to go after lawmakers who thwart the will of the voters.
The law calls for a Cannabis Control Commission, appointed by the state treasurer, to regulate the industry. Borghesani said lawmakers ought to fund the agency so commissioners can be appointed and begin their work. He said the pot committee ought to defer action on any bills that muck with the law. And he said lawmakers ought to work on issues related to legalization but not specifically addressed in the law. He mentioned expunging the criminal records of people with past marijuana offenses as an example.
“We’re fully aware of where the pro-pot people are coming from,” said Representative Mark Cusack, House chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Policy. “But our charge is to put the best law in place for the residents of Masachusetts while respecting their will.”
Cusack said he is focusing on public safety and consumer protection, and “as duly elected legislators, the law is our purview and we’re going to put the best law in place.”
Speaking to reporters separately, Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, and Governor Charlie Baker all expressed support for the work of the marijuana committee.
Rosenberg said the ballot question was written years ago, and Massachusetts ought to have the best practices when it comes to a recreational marijuana market.
DeLeo said lawmakers have work to do on the law regarding the pot tax rate and regulations. “I don’t consider our role as legislators at all to be hamstrung just by that particular ballot question, except for the legalization,” the speaker said.
Baker emphasized it’s important to get the law right the first time around, instead of the state experiencing big problems with legalization, and then rushing to revise the statute.